Housing leads the mayoral debate

On Tuesday night, a couple of lucky people from Pocket were in the front row for a debate by the London mayoral candidates entirely devoted to the subject of housing in the Capital. Mayoral hopeful Sadiq Khan launched his campaign by saying that the election in May was going to be “a referendum on housing” and from the level of engagement on Tuesday night – he was right. It was mentioned that previous Mayoral elections have been centred around the key issue of transport or policing and this vote will be defined by the candidate that reassures the electorate that they will make an impact on the housing crisis.

The candidates at the debate were:

  • Labour candidate Sadiq Khan MP
  • Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith MP
  • Liberal Democrat candidate Caroline Pidgeon AM
  • Green Party’s Darren Johnson AM (standing in for Sian Berry)

The event was organised by Land Aid who must be credited with getting all of the major parties represented to discuss such a cornerstone policy area but also of doing a sterling job of bringing everyone in the property industry together to help those in most need – homeless young people. Land Aid does amazing work in bringing donations and skills from across the property sector to help homeless young people into accommodation and get back on their feet.

So, on to the debate, if you’re a city maker struggling to afford to live in the Capital (let alone think about buying a home), all the candidates think you’re important! It is clear that all the candidates know that those on moderate incomes contribute so much to London’s economy and cultural character and that they need better housing solutions. Labour candidate Sadiq Khan’s policy of ensuring 50% of new homes are affordable and Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith’s plans to release publically owned brownfield land are just two policies that will clearly help build more of the types of homes we need.

It was encouraging for Pocket as a private property company, working closely with the public sector to deliver genuinely affordable housing for those Londoners on average incomes, to hear:

  • Sadiq Khan say: “We need to target genuinely affordable homes for those on £30-50k pa….it’s wrong that today’s young Londoners on average wages are being forced out of the capital.”
  • Caroline Pidgeon say: “We need a huge amount of genuinely affordable homes in London from the public and private sectors working better together.”
  • Zac Goldsmith say: “I believe that Londoners on average incomes should be able to stay in the capital.”

There is clearly a huge amount of consensus on the key issues in housing between the candidates. It has to be a good thing that whoever gets into City Hall will focus more on intermediate affordable housing and those who deliver it. All of the candidates agree that we need to be delivering 50,000 homes a year and that this is a real challenge. They are also in agreement that there is enough land available in and around London to cater for the homes we need and that we should protect the Greenbelt. None of the candidates shied away from the realities of the challenge and were open to the need for more density, that towers have their place and that foreign investment is necessary to drive development.

It was good to see the Green Party’s Darren Johnson AM calling for the development of more small sites by smaller developers and for larger regeneration schemes to be broken up to create zones for smaller developers to bring a broader range of products to market. This drew a great deal of support especially from Caroline Pidgeon who, as daughter of a chippy, knows the value of local builders delivering for local communities. This is something we believe in passionately at Pocket and have been calling for ourselves, so we hope to see more land designated for smaller builders to deliver affordable homes.

So with all this consensus we didn’t see many sparks fly! Sadiq repeated his challenge to Zac that the Conservative definition of affordable housing was a “Starter Homes that cost £450,000 and you have to earn over £75k per year to afford one”. Zac replied that he’d visited a Pocket starter home which is sold for a 20% discount to the market at £165,000 in Ealing. This argument has been had a few times now and whilst we’re pleased to be cited as great example of what’s working, it is concerning when our genuinely affordable homes get dragged into a high-level debate which by its nature can’t really do justice to the ethos of the business we run. Zac challenged Sadiq saying that his fare freeze will create a fiscal black hole that will prevent the Mayor from delivering homes but Sadiq defended his position as being fully funded and suggesting his ministerial experience would help him to make savings and increase revenue at City Hall. So a few blows were traded to keep the debate interesting.

From Pocket’s perspective the debate is really encouraging. The GLA’s loan of £26.4million has ensured we are on track to deliver 4,000 genuinely affordable homes for Londoners by 2023. If we are to stay on track we need to ensure whoever is elected continues this support and builds on it, so we can continue to deliver much needed affordable intermediate housing.  The consensus amongst the candidates and focus on housing is to be warmly welcomed. We need to ensure the next Mayor doesn’t lose this focus when elected and that she or he are encouraged to act quickly as results in housing take a long time to deliver. Pocket is part of that solution and will work with whoever is elected to play a key part and we hope that the next mayor will embrace smaller innovative developers like us, who can deliver homes quickly for the city makers on moderate incomes who make our city tick.

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